The Diary of Anne Frank is one of the most widely read nonfiction books in the world. Translated into more than 60 languages, Anne’s account of her experiences as a young Jewish girl hiding from the Nazis in Holland during World War II has connected countless readers with the history of the Holocaust. And now, visitors to the Oregon Jewish Museum will be able to connect even more deeply with the story through its latest exhibit, Anne Frank: A History for Today.
Organized chronologically, the exhibit gives global and historical context to Anne’s life before, during and after she and her family went into hiding. In one segment, visitors can see how the events of Kristallnacht prompted the Frank family to leave Germany for the Netherlands in 1938. In another, visitors learn how a work order sent to Anne’s older sister Margot was the catalyst for the family to go into hiding in 1942.
An already moving story is made all the more so by Otto Frank’s photography. The exhibit features photos of Anne, Margot and their mother Edith as a happy family: eating meals, visiting the beach, playing tennis. Seeing images of the family before they were forced into hiding reminds viewers that these were regular people with normal, everyday lives.
“All of us can identify with Anne,” says Hilary Eddy Stipelman of the Anne Frank Center. “Her story helps endear us to history in a way that’s unique, by connecting us with one life.”
To further connect visitors with Anne Frank, the museum has two cases on display. One is full of many versions of Anne’s diary, including a replica of the original plaid book she received for her 13th birthday. The other contains pop cultural artifacts influenced by Anne Frank, from Cliff’s Notes to the song “Holland, 1945” by Neutral Milk Hotel. This track inspired by Anne and her sister Margot was recently featured in the final episode of The Colbert Report.
Accompanying the photos and artifacts from Anne Frank’s life are six drawings called Hiding by Portland artist Henk Pander. These rarely displayed works depict Pander’s childhood in Haarlem, barely 10 miles from Anne Frank’s hiding place.
After immigrating to the United States in the 1970s, Pander found the Vietnam War stirred up older memories of living in a country at war. As a child in Holland, he and his family were also in hiding, though in their case it was so that Pander’s father could avoid the Arbeitseinsatz — the forced labor of men 18-45 — in German-occupied Europe. It wasn’t until he left the Netherlands that Pander truly began to process his experiences.
“The more I started thinking about it, the more I remembered,” he says.
Pander has produced many paintings and drawings reconstructing his experiences over the years, and together with Judith Margles, the director of the Oregon Jewish Museum, he selected the six pieces for Hiding. He’s happy to have his work on display because he relates to Anne Frank — he read her unabridged diary in Dutch as a young man in Holland — but also because creating these drawings was such a meaningful process for him personally.
“For a number of reasons I’m extremely pleased to have these works on exhibit,” he adds.
Everyone is encouraged to explore the exhibition, but the Museum’s outreach has been especially focused on school groups — and especially middle schools as those students are around the age Anne Frank was when she wrote her diary. More than 1,300 students are scheduled to visit the museum between now and April, and many will end their trip with a conversation with a Holocaust survivor. Margles hopes the Anne Frank exhibit will serve as a jumping-off point for students to explore issues of injustice happening in the world today.
“Genocide hasn’t stopped,” she says. “We want to make this a safe place for hard conversations.”
Several special events are scheduled in conjunction with the exhibit, from a book discussion to a queer storytelling cabaret. Group tours are available by request, and every Sunday the museum will hold a public exhibit tour at 1:00 p.m. followed by a public talk from a member of the Holocaust Speakers’ Bureau at 2:30 p.m.
Though Anne Frank’s personal story ended in tragedy, her legacy has inspired hope and compassion in millions of people, and that’s what Stipelman hopes visitors take away from the exhibit.
“Anne Frank inspires us to think of how we can do good in the world instead of attacking one another,” she says. “I want people to see this exhibit and think, ‘Wow. I can make a difference in someone else’s life.’”
“Anne Frank: A History for Today” is on view at the Oregon Jewish Museum through April 14, 2015. It was developed by the Anne Frank House and is sponsored in North America by The Anne Frank Center USA.